Assurance of Covenant Membership

We have been considering the purpose of the institution of the Lord’s Supper from the viewpoint of its objective significance, as set forth in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. This all-important aspect of the sacrament may not in any way be minimized. In all that takes place in this celebration we must be brought to see the Christ of Scripture as He executes the eternal counsel of redemption. The aim of this ordinance of God is to “remember Him by it.” 

There is, however, another viewpoint from which we must consider the institution of the Lord’s Supper. A mere objective contemplation of the realities of the suffering of Christ, climaxing in His death for sin and crowned with His glorious resurrection, is not adequate. The benefits of His perfect work must be made ours, and we must, through this very sacrament, be assured of our membership in His covenant. It is imperative that we see how the benefits of Christ’s redemptive work are applied in and through the Lord’s Supper unto us. Only then can the celebration of this sacrament be to our spiritual profit. 

With this in mind we would consider the following significant paragraph of the Communion Form: 

“And that we might firmly believe that we belong to this covenant of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ, in His last Supper, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and gave it to His disciples and said, ‘Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you, this do in remembrance of me; in like manner also after supper He took the cup, gave thanks and said, Drink ye all of it; this cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you and for many, for the remission of sins; this do ye as often as ye drink it in remembrance of me’: that is, as often as ye eat of this bread and drink of this cup, you shall thereby as by a sure remembrance and pledge, be admonished and assured of this My hearty love and faithfulness towards you; that, whereas you should otherwise have suffered eternal death, I have given my body to the death of the cross, and shed my blood for you; and as certainly feed and nourish your hungry and thirsty souls with my crucified body, and shed blood, to everlasting life, as this bread is broken before your eyes, and this cup is given to you, and you eat and drink the same with your mouth, in remembrance of me.” 

Of significance here is the fact that the Communion Form speaks of an “admonition and assurance.” These are not to be divorced, for reality is, that assurance that we are partakers of the benefits of Christ can be had only in the way of hearing and heeding the admonition. God works through the means of admonitions. This same approach is found in our Heidelberg Catechism in Lord’s Day 28, where the question is asked: “How art thou admonished andassured in the Lord’s Supper, that thou art a partaker of the one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross, and of all His benefits?” Here also it is through the admonition that the assurance of being partaker of His benefits is attained. And then it is also worthwhile to note the answer of the Catechism to this important question. It points us to the admonition when it states: “That Christ has commanded me and all believers, to eat of this broken bread, and to drink of this cup, in remembrance of Him.” Unless we can do this, that is, eat and drink Christ by faith, the observance of the outward sacrament cannot afford us any assurance of salvation. We must hear the word of Christ, addressing Himself to us, calling us to come to Him, to believe on Him, to eat and drink Him. Only when we have heard and heeded this command of Christ are we receptive to the comforting and assuring promises contained in the sacrament and which the Catechism delineates as follows: 

“First, that His body was offered and broken on the cross for me, and His blood shed for me, as certainly as I see with my eyes, the bread of the Lord broken for me, and the cup communicated to me; and further, that He feeds and nourishes my soul to everlasting life, with His crucified body and shed blood, as assuredly as I receive from the hands of the minister, and taste with my mouth the bread and cup of the Lord, as certain signs of the body and blood of Christ.” 

One of the purposes of the Lord’s Supper is to assure believers of these wonderful realities. It first directs faith to the objective work of Christ, accomplished through all his sufferings and death, and then, by means of the admonition of the Word, it applies the benefits of this work subjectively to the hearts of the children of God. 

This does not mean that the application of the benefits of the Lord’s Supper is dependent upon our acceptance of the word of Christ as though our heeding His word were a condition or prerequisite for the impartation of the benefits. On the contrary, our hearing the word and heeding it, or, in other words, our believing Christ’s instruction, is already the fruit of His grace and marks the beginning of the process in which all the blessings of salvation are ultimately received. The point is that without this beginning there can be no process. Further, the point is that the benefits of the Lord’s Supper are not designed for everyone but are bestowed by the Spirit of Christ only upon those who are believers, and faith is brought to manifestation, not through mystical and emotional devices, but by the hearing of the word of God. Always God works assurance in the hearts of His children, not apart from but through His word. 

This is also the teaching of our Canons. In Chapter V, Article 10 we confess:

“This assurance, however, is not, produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God; but springs from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His word for our comfort.” 

The first question for us therefore is: “Can we hear the word of Christ enjoining us in the sacrament to believe that He has instituted this Supper as a remembrance of His death which is the only ground and foundation of our salvation?” Further, do we believe that in the institution of this sacrament Christ gave the command to us, as well as to His disciples, that we should take the bread and eat it as representing His body that was broken for us and the cup which is the new testament of His blood? 

Believing this, the sacrament of holy communion affords us with a wonderful and rich assurance. Christ Himself pledges to us His hearty love and faithfulness. He assures us that whereas we should have suffered eternal death, we need not die, for He has given His body to the death of the cross and shed His blood for us. In that sacrifice He has accomplished complete and perfect salvation for us. And although, as our Belgic Confession expresses it, “though the manner surpasses our understanding, and cannot be comprehended by us, as the operations of the Holy Ghost are hidden and incomprehensible,” nevertheless, we are confidently assured that Christ will certainly feed and nourish our hungry and thirsty souls with His crucified body, and shed blood, to everlasting life, as the bread is broken before our eyes, and the cup is given to us, and we eat and drink the same with our mouths, in remembrance of Him. This is our assurance that He has taken us into His everlasting covenant and makes us partakers of all its benefits. And when you can leave the table of the Lord with that confidence, you have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places. Then your cup runs over and your joy is full. In this confident assurance you can meet all the vicissitudes of the present life, glory in tribulation and wait with patience for the day of victory in which sin and death shall be swallowed up forever. Let us remember that it is to thisend, for this purpose, that the Lord has instituted His Supper. Do not construe this purpose or end as a mere idealism, a vain wish, an impotent desire but remember that this is also reality, for Christ is the sovereign Lord who always accomplishes His purpose. It is not something which Christ attempts to do, but it is that which He sovereignly works. If then the celebration of His Supper does not bear this fruit in us, there is something wrong with us that necessitates an immediate and thorough self-examination. Even as the evidence of this fruit demonstrates the reality that we are “in the faith,” its absence points indubitably to a very serious spiritual deficiency in our lives. 

In conclusion then we would have you note that the Lord works this assurance in His people by directing their faith to Himself. Thus we quote further our beautiful Communion Form: 

“From this institution of the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see that He directs, our faith and trust to. His perfect sacrifice (once offered on the cross) as the only ground and foundation of our salvation, wherein He is become to our hungry and thirsty souls, the true meat and drink of life eternal. For by His death He hath taken away the cause of our eternal death and misery, namely, sin, and obtained for us the quickening Spirit, that we by the same (who dwelleth in Christ as in the head, and in us as His members), might have true communion with Him and be made partakers of all His blessings, of life eternal, righteousness and glory.”

The picture is very beautiful. Christ has removed the cause of our eternal death, namely, sin. He has obtained for us the living Spirit who unites us in one glorious body with Christ, the head, and we the members. To that body in all its members the Spirit of Christ dispenses according as He wills, all the gifts and blessings of eternal life. By that same Spirit we are then united in true brotherly love in one body and this love we are to show, not only in word, but also in very deed toward one another. This communion of saints is the practical fruit of the true celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

“Grieve not the Holy Spirit.”

This is the command of the word of God. And the Spirit is grieved when, in the communion of saints the brother is shunned, or despised, or maltreated. Then there is no working of faith, but the works of the flesh come to manifestation, and these works, which are always corrupt, cause schisms in the body of Christ and destroy the communal life of the church. Because faith is not yet made perfect in us and the flesh is strongly with us, we are enjoined to seek the almighty God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to assist us in the exercise of brotherly love through His Holy Spirit. By His grace we hear the admonitions of His word and walk as obedient children, enjoying the full assurance that we are members of His covenant, that Christ died for us and rose again for our justification, and that we are heirs of eternal life.